Saturday, April 22, 2017

The GREAT Henry Ridgely Evans

I should probably have referred to him as the PROLIFIC Henry Ridgely Evans but it's sort of a play on words as you will see.  While going through a wonderful book on history by Ken Klosterman titled, Of Legierdemaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks*, I came across an interesting article titled, 'How I Became Interested In The Magic Art' by Dr. Henry Ridgely Evans.

It seems that a young Henry Evans was fascinated with the book The Arabian Nights as a child. The article even goes on to say that he slept with the book under his pillow.  Years later he came upon an article about Robert-Houdin in an issue of Harper's Magazine. And then in 1877, Professor Hoffmann put out his book MODERN MAGIC, and this took Henry Evans over the edge! He devoured the book and it's material. He soon found a copy of Houdin's biography that he also read through and through.

Drive way up to Dumbarton Oaks
While attending Columbian College in Washington D.C. one of his school mates encouraged him to put on a show and even offered his home as the venue for such a performance. His friend was Edward Linthicum Dent, and the home was called, The Oaks. Today it is known as Dumbarton Oaks and is a Research Library and Collection institute administered by the Trustees of Harvard University. But in the late 1800s it was a private residence and quite an impressive mansion. In fact, it still as!

According to the article, 200 school children from the area came to see the show put on by the amateur conjurer Henry Ridgely Evans. As is often the case for a new performer, poor Evans got cold feet. In fact, he got more than cold feet, his feet wouldn't even move. He was paralyzed with fear! The kids in the audience got wind of his condition and like wild animals that could smell blood, they were ready to pounce!!! But, Evans somehow gained his composure and presented a fairly decent show, with one exception. His 'Card Star' accidentally released early and cards shot everywhere, when they were not supposed to. It brought about the end of the show, and likely the end of Henry Ridgely Evan's career as a performing magician. Fortunately for us, his fascination with magic remained and he became a very prolific writer on the topic.

Dr. Henry Ridgely Evans would go on to become a valued writer of magic history. He wrote, Magic & It's Professors (1902), The Old and the New Magic(1906), Adventures In Magic (1927), History of Conjuring and Magic (1928), A Master of Modern Magic: The Life and Adventures of Robert-Houdin (1932), Some Rare Old Books on Conjuring and Magic (1943)  I just obtained a copy of The Old and the New Magic and am anxious to delve into it's pages.

I wrote about him previously and you can check out that article here
Evans died died at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore on March 29th, 1949. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington DC. Below is an image of his grave. Incidentally, Dumbarton Oaks, that I mentioned above is right next to the cemetery! I'm sure had I done more research I might have found the home he lived in while he lived in town, but frankly, the weather was making any sort of further adventures difficult. It took an hour just to find the grave because the areas are not marked, at least not that we could find. But  eventually we did find it and I paid my respects. 

*To be clear, Ken compiled the material in this book, but the material was written by John Braun.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Magician Who Met Abraham Lincoln

This story has intrigued me from the first time I heard of it. In fact, I even wrote about it before. A friend sent me an article from a 1920 LA newspaper and it rekindled my interest in the story. So I'm reprinting my original article below with a couple corrections. These corrections came about by reading an article in the Los Angeles Evening Herald Feb 12th, 1920 edition. In truth, they really fill in more of the blanks than truly correct things. I hope you enjoy the updated article.

The individual in question is Horatio Green Cooke, born 1844 in Norwich Connecticut. As a youth his family moved around a bit finally settling in Iowa. In 1861, Horatio was working as a teacher.  In 1862, Horatio, who would go by the name Harry, enlisted in the Union Army. He had excellent penmanship and was also a fine marksman. Before long he was writing correspondence for various Generals in the Union Army, among them General U.S. Grant.

Due to Cooke's ability as a penman, he soon came to the notice of various people in Washington DC. His ability as a marksman, also played a part in his change in career and in rank. 

He went from being a private in the Union Army to being selected to be as a Captain of Lincoln's Federal Scouts.  He always carried with him a letter autographed by the President Lincoln informing him that he had been selected to be one of his special scouts.  In 1863, he fell under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Vicksburg. The surrender of Vicksburg by the Confederate Army gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union Army, and basically split the Confederacy in half. This event, along with the Battle of Gettysburg, were the turning points in the war for the Union.

R. Ingersoll, Gen Hancock, E. Stanton, Gen Sherman, A. Lincoln
On May 1st, 1864, Harry Cooke was ordered to appear before Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War in Washington D.C.. When he arrived  he found that along with Stanton, was General William Tecumseh Sherman, General Hancock, Senator Robert Ingersoll and President Abraham Lincoln. They had heard of the young scouts unusual ability to free himself from restraints and were curious. So he was tied up with fifty feet of rope. After he was securely tied, Cooke asked Lincoln to walk ten feet away. Then he asked him to return and before Lincoln got back, Cooke had freed himself from the confinement! According to the Los Angeles Evening Express Newspaper, Lincoln was amazed and jubilated. Lincoln said to Cooke "Here my boy, keep this to remember Uncle Abe by" and Lincoln then handed Cooke a two dollar bill. Harry Cooke kept that two dollar bill his entire life.

John Singleton Mosby - The Grey Ghost
In the Fall of 1864, Harry was assigned to join General Sheridan in Winchester VA. On October 19th, Harry Cooke and six other scouts were captured by Mosby's Raiders under the command of  'The Grey Ghost', John Singleton Mosby*. Mosby was notorious for his stealth-like raids against Union forces. When his band of raiders captured Harry Cooke and his fellow scouts they took from them all their possessions. In Cooke's pocket was the personal letter from Lincoln appointing him to the position of Federal Scout, a cherished memento. In Mosby's eyes Cooke was a spy and was sentenced to be hanged along with his other scouts. They were to get an early morning hanging, but their final evening on earth would be spent tied to a tree. Being the escape artist that he was, Cooke quietly freed himself from the ropes, and then proceeded to free his fellow prisoners and return back to the Union side under the cover of darkness. Due to the fact that not all of his fellow scounts could swim, they had to split up. Three swam across the Potomac River and the others made their way through the woods. One of the scouts who was swimming later drowned when trying to cross Harpers Ferry Canal.  Cooke and his companion finally made it back to a Union camp. From there, he took some men back to try and find those scouts who chose to make their way through the woods because they couldn't swim. They were eventually discovered, hanged and full of bullet holes. In the end, only Cooke and his other fellow scout that he swam with made it to safety.

Fords Theatre /Library of Congress photo
Harry had always been bothered by the theft of his Lincoln Letter by Mosby's Raiders and decided to try and get a copy from the President himself. On April 14th 1865, Cooke went to the White House in Washington to see Mr. Lincoln. Upon arriving at the White House he was told that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had left for an evening at Fords Theatre. Harry Cooke went to Fords Theatre, where the President and First Lady were watching the play "Our American Cousin". A short time after Harry Cooke arrived a loud shot rang out, and well, the rest is history. Cooke was there, in the audience, as John Wilkes Booth shot the President and then jumped to the stage and out the back doors of Fords Theatre.

It's hard to say when Harry Cooke got his interest in magic or where he developed the ability to escape from ropes. One thing is certain, he had an ability to escape like no one before him, and few since.  After the Civil War ended Horatio Green Cooke became "Professor Harry Cooke" and worked as a professional magician and 'Celebrated King of the Spirit Exposers". Years later he would become President of the Los Angeles Society of Magicians and would obtain the new moniker 'The Oldest Living Magician'. His favorite trick throughout his life was the Linking Rings and apparently his routine was one to wonder over.

On May 1st 1924, at the young age of 80, Harry Cooke duplicated his feat of escaping from 50 feet of rope for the Los Angeles area magicians. During this exhibition, Harry Cooke wore his blue Union Army uniform, the same one he wore during the Civil War. The result was exactly as it had been 60 years earlier when he presented the stunt before President Lincoln and his cabinet, HE ESCAPED! A a little over a month later Horatio Green Cooke passed away on June 17, 1924.

I must make note of the fact that though Harry Cooke was well known during his day, and appeared often in magic periodicals of his time period, and was even one of the pallbearers at Harry Kellar's funeral, he had largely been forgotten in recent years. It was Mark Cannon, escape artist and magician who brought the wonderful stories of Harry Cooke back to life through a fantastic article he wrote for MUM Magazine in April 2006. Mark had actually been fortunate enough to meet one of Harry Cooke's daughters at one of his shows and was given Cooke's personal scrap book. And it was because of Mark's wonderful article and my interest in magic history that I first started to delve into the world of Harry Cooke. Eventually, I too got to meet one of Cooke's descendants. You gotta love magic history, you never know where it will take you or who you might encounter!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

DC Jail Escape Follow-up.

The 10th Precinct Building

Back in 2014 I wrote an article about Houdini's 1906 jail escape in Washington DC from the 10th precinct. When I first wrote the article I thought  that the jail had been torn down. Later I discovered that in fact, that jail actually was still there and still operational. I finished the article by saying, "Maybe someday I'll head over there and check out to see if Houdini's cell is still there."

As it turned out, last year I received an email from a friend of mine who lives near there. He told me he was planning on going over and check the place out. But then I didn't hear from him. I figured maybe he never made it over. But alas, I ran into him at The Yankee Gathering in November 2016. The mans name is Charles Greene, and he is an excellent magician, speaker and magic historian/collector, and also owner of this site

It turns out that Charles DID visit the 10th Precinct Station and went inside inquiring about a 'Houdini's jail cell'. The cell, was originally in the basement and Charles was told that they'd been removed a long while ago. Still he pressed on and asked to see for himself. Sure enough, there was nothing remaining. The building was still standing but the cell where Houdini did his escape was gone. And thanks to Charles, at least now we know!

Now please don't mistake this for Houdini's other, and more famous jail escape in DC from the Old DC Jail. That would be where Houdini escaped from the cell that once held the assassin to president Garfield. That escape would take place only 5 days later, on Jan 6th, 1906. Below are two views of the prison that may be new to many people. They come from the Library of Congress/Harris&Ewing Collection.

This Old D.C. Jail  was torn down in the early 80s. However, as an interesting side now, the stones used in the building were from the same quarry that supplies stones for the Smithsonian Castle. So some of the jail stones were taken to the Smithsonian to use in repairs of the Castle.

Houdini and the Boston Jail, Setting the Record Straight

I'll admit, I do my best to verify everything I put up here, but I have missed a couple of times.  It might be due to an outdated source that I'm using that got it wrong, or a newspaper that I didn't have access that might later alter the facts that I have. Alas, one of my earliest articles turns out to not be accurate and I'm not too happy about that. I had been given a tip that this was it, and couldn't find any information on other jails at the time, so I went with the tip. Later newspapers from the time confirmed that it was indeed NOT the Charles Street Jail that I had first listed, but rather the City Jail/Prison on Somerset Street.  I want to give credit where credit is due and that is to Bill Mullins who discovered the correct information and was kind enough to let me know! I am going to reprint the original article below but insert the proper information along with new photos. 

Houdini at the 'Boston Tombs'
Houdini escaped from the Boston Tombs in 1906. The photo above shows Houdini about to go over the wall of the Boston Tombs as the jail was called. The actual jail was the City Jail or City Prison located on Somerset Street in the Pemberton's Hill area. I discovered that it was common in that time to refer to a jail or prison as the Tombs. The most famous was the Manhattan Detention Complex in NYC known as The Tombs. 

The Escape
The date was March 19, 1906 and the Superintendent of Police William Pierce had agreed to lock up Houdini in their jail. He was first taken to cell number 77 on the ground floor where Houdini removed his clothes and was checked for keys and picks. Nothing was found and Houdini's clothes were then locked into this cell while he himself was taken to the second floor. He stepped into cell number 60 and was secured in handcuffs and leg irons. Then the Superintendent locked Houdini inside Cell #60 and he and the other police officials left Houdini and headed for the main office. They were confident that Houdini could not escape.

Sixteen minutes later Houdini was scaling the outer wall of the jail and running down the road towards Keith's Theatre. Houdini called William Pierce from the theater to let him know he had escaped! Shock set in. Superintendent Pierce asks Houdini to return so that the photographers can get a photo of him going over the wall (see photo at top of page). According to the Kalush Biography, the Superintendent told Houdini he expected him to show up in the jail office if he got out. He shook Houdini's hand and seemed happy with the results. Though Houdini's book "Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist" paints a different picture. Houdini claims that Pierce's only response was "I have nothing to say".
The route of escape from the City Prison in Boston

The Jail Today

The building that once housed the City Prison is today called the John Adams Courthouse. It was built in 1885 and originally known as The Suffolk County Courthouse. I do not know if any of the jail, or the cells remain in the building or not. Looking at this photo, I can't quite match up this image with the one on the top of the page, so I'm guessing the back of the building is where the jail was likely housed. Houdini's cell #77 was on the ground floor, though he was moved to an upstairs cell #60.

Now I'm wondering, if the 'staged' photo at the top of the page might just have been taken at the Charles Street Jail, as that buildings facade totally matches up to the building in that photo? I'll eventually find a view behind this building and see what the rear of the building look like. For now though, the record has been corrected, thanks to Bill Mullins!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Happy Birthday Bess Houdini!

Bess Houdini was born January 22, 1876, which makes her 141 years old today. She honestly doesn't look it! In November, I attended the Yankee Gathering in Massachusetts and in attendance was John Hinson, Great Nephew of Bess and Harry Houdini. John is just the coolest guy. He clearly has a passion of magic history and especially the Houdini family. He loves to share the stories of his family and share rare photos, many that have NEVER been seen in print before.

John graciously has allowed me to share some of these pictures with you in the coming months, and I am very excited to be doing so. I don't yet have those pictures from John, but I know he's been busy so you'll get to see them soon enough.

For now we wish Bessie a very Happy Birthday!!!

HOLD THE PRESSES!!!! Bessie can have some cake today if she likes, but ole John Cox pointed out to me that John Hinson (the very same I mentioned above) showed him proof that Bessie was born on Jan 23rd!!!!!!!! Honestly though, having gone through many census records and birth records from the 1800s and seeing how dates change and fluctuate, its a wonder we have an accuracy at all. But, then again, if it comes from John Hinson's collection, I'm going to believe it! So 23 it is!!!!!!!!!